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Filmmaker Ya'Ke Smith to speak on filmworks, black culture and honest reflections

As part of Black History Month, the Office of Multicultural Development is hosting Mr. Ya'Ke Smith, an award-winning and renowned filmmaker. He will be speaking on the topic of "Art Reflecting Life, Life Reflecting Art: Cinema as a Social Tool" in the McIntosh Activities room on Thursday Feb. 20 from 7-9:30 p.m.

Smith will be discussing his work as a filmmaker, and his attempts at debunking negative stereotypes and exposing truths. 

Oftentimes, the ways African Americans are portrayed in the media does not represent the actualities of their experiences, and that is what Smith is trying to change, said LaShonda Gurley, Director of Multicultural Development. 

For example, the film "The Best Man Holiday" shows average families and how they interact, but people saw it as just a funny film, and not as Generation-X-ers dealing with real world issues, she said.

Many actors and actresses are praised for their amazing acting in movies like "12-Years a Slave" and "The Butler." Not to say that they didn't act well, but the fact of the matter is that they are being celebrated for having the role of a slave, or a nanny, or a maid, not for big roles that fall outside of the common stereotypes. It's misrepresentative. 

"Why as African Americans do we have to be portrayed as subpar?" Gurley said.

David Sentongo, a BSU executive, said, "The movies show gangsters, but we're not all like that." 

Yet the public tends to adopt these portrayals and blanket everyone with the stereotypes.

"It's not necessarily racism—[they] just haven't seen anything else," he said.

So, people like Smith are working independently to portray a positive image of African Americans in film—to celebrate their history and achievements, to recognize their struggles and hardships. 

This lecture is an opportunity to educate everyone about African Americans' unique culture. Society tends to lump groups of people together and assign them a label, when in reality we're all different, said Gurley. 

Whilst trying to fit in and attain the American Dream, many African Americans can lose their sense of self, she said. That's why it is important to have events like Black History Month, where they can get a better idea of their history and who they are.

"You have to understand the past to prepare for the present and [thus] impact the future," said Gurley.

As Sentongo said, the mission of the Black Student Union (BSU) is to encourage multicultural students and non-multicultural students to get together—to bring stereotypes to light that would commonly hinder relationships and create barriers, and to get past that.

"Don't look at the issue as a problem with a long-term solution and just put it on the back burner," he said. We need to continue to work on this, and to act now. That's the only way it will improve.

 "Each one of us needs to do our part and be the best person we can be, and we'll get there sooner," he said. 

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